A paper published in Nature Biotechnology describes a bioengineered cornea that restored sight to 20 people, 14 of them previously blind, in an initial clinical trial. Keratoconus is a condition where the cornea starts to lose collagen, growing thinner and cone-shaped and eventually impairing vision.
Corneal transplants are one solution, but in addition to a shortage of donors, recipients must take immunosuppressants to keep their bodies from rejecting the transplanted cornea.
The team used collagen protein extracted from pig skin as the base for an artificial cornea. Surgeons in India and Iran implanted the engineered corneas into 20 patients, 14 of whom were completely blind and 6 of whom had impaired vision as a result of keratoconus.
The doctors used a minimally-invasive surgical technique, making a laser incision in the existing cornea and inserting the implant rather than removing the cornea and sewing in a replacement.
On the contrary, the implant caused their corneas to return to normal thickness and curvature, and the 14 participants who were blind before the operation had their vision restored.